In our line of duty, we often find ourselves rushing to provide care in emergency situations. However, when assisting individuals with autism, our traditional approach might not always be the most effective. It’s paramount to understand and adapt to the unique needs of these individuals to ensure their safety during transport to hospitals.
Understanding Autism in Emergencies
Autism affects how people process their surroundings. Situations that seem routine to us might be overwhelming for someone with autism. As first responders, recognizing this can be the difference between a smooth transfer to a medical facility and a traumatic experience for the individual.
1. Communication is Key
When attending to an autistic individual, always explain every step of the process. Whether it’s moving them to the back of the ambulance or explaining the equipment, ensure you provide clarity. Avoid making assumptions about their comprehension based on the reactions of non-autistic individuals in similar situations.
2. Sensory Sensitivity
Many individuals with autism have heightened sensory sensitivity. The sirens and lights of our vehicles, while vital, can be particularly distressing for them. If it's safe, consider lowering or even turning off these stimuli to prevent additional distress.
3. Hospital Handoff
Never leave an autistic individual unattended in a hospital, especially if they communicate differently. Always inform the receiving facility about the patient's needs, so they can provide specialized care.
Elopement and the Call to Search
Elopement, or wandering, is a significant concern in the autism community. Approximately 40-50% (if not more) of individuals with autism wander at some point in their lives. As first responders, we may be part of search operations for these individuals. Water is a primary attraction for many autistic individuals, making it a high-risk area. Remember, drowning after elopement accounts for a staggering 91% of drowning deaths in those with autism. When searching, prioritize water bodies, not just the obvious ones like lakes but also backyard pools and Jacuzzis.
Signs to Spot on the Scene
Keep an eye out for indications that you might be dealing with an autistic individual:
Autism license plates or stickers on vehicles.
ID cards provided to those with autism, which they might hand over during interactions.
Signs specifying that the individual might not communicate verbally.
As first responders, our objective is to aid and protect. Recognizing these signs can provide crucial context to adapt our approach effectively.
The Autism Society of Florida: Your Partner in Service
Every firefighter, EMT, and paramedic should remember that the Autism Society of Florida is ready to assist. Composed of volunteers, many of whom are parents or guardians of individuals with autism, they are driven by the desire to make our communities safer for everyone. Their resources, videos, and training materials can be invaluable in helping us serve this particular demographic better.
Our goal is not just to save lives but to do so with understanding and compassion. By adapting our methods when assisting individuals with autism, we can ensure their safety and well-being, while also making our jobs more effective and fulfilling.